The NPD Group has released its latest foodservice market research report, “Consumers Define Healthy Eating When They Go Out to Eat.” The report found that Americans define healthy eating -- such as fresh, natural and nutritious ingredients -- based on food quality more than calorie counts.

The report salso uggests that a significant amount of foodservice traffic is driven by healthy eating behaviors. Meanwhile, fewer calories were among the least important features sought out.

“Typically, the perception has been that healthy eating to consumers means low calorie and low fat, and our findings show that the perception is not the reality,” said Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst at NPD. “Clearly, descriptors like fresh or natural will resonate more with consumers than less calories.”

Additionally, the report addressed consumer attitudes about the importance of taste. Consumers place a high importance on taste if they are eating healthfully or not, and some consumers equate healthier foods as not being as tasty.

The majority of consumers expect to pay the same for healthier foods as those considered less healthy.

“Understanding these trends provide foodservice operators and manufacturers with the opportunity to offer products that meet consumers’ needs for healthier options,” Riggs said. “More consumers are seeking healthy/light foods and having these options available on menus will meet these consumers’ needs; however, healthful menu options must be fresh, taste good and be affordably priced.”

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